What's in Season: Oysters

Illustration by John Burgoyne
by Jenny Everett - December 2012/January 2013

For a clean taste of the ocean, look for these Southern selects

Around Charleston, South Carolina, Dave Belanger is rarely called by his given name. He’s known as Clammer Dave or simply Clammer, thanks to the Caper’s Clams he’s been raising for a decade. But in recent years, the farmer turned businessman turned bivalve aficionado has amassed a huge and hungry following for his Caper’s Blades oysters. Described as cleaner, saltier, and more flavorful than other Southern oysters, Belanger’s Blades are broken from clusters into single selects using a two-hundred-year-old rock-and-chisel technique. Oysters that are sufficiently mature are then placed in special racks in the waters around the Capers Island Wildlife Refuge where, Belanger says, the highly oxygenated water and the algae diet produce a perfectly briny taste. Though Belanger will ship directly to customers, demand means you’ll most likely be put on a waiting list. Luckily, restaurants from Nashville to New York City also stock the Blades (check clammerdave.com for a list). “I just try to respect the oyster,” he says, “and hope people like them.”


Gulp the Gulf
Two more Southern classics on the half shell

Galveston Bay Oysters
These oysters are Texas bred, so not surprisingly, they’re big. The reefs thrive in the warm, high-salinity waters around Galveston, yielding meaty, firm, sweet goodness. Look for them on regional menus listed either as Galveston oysters or by specific reef names—Pepper Grove, Smith Pass, Lone Oak Reef—as they were in the 1800s. As with most high-quality oysters, keep condiments to a minimum.

Apalachicola Bay Oysters
Florida’s Apalachicola Bay is the last place in the country where wild oysters are still harvested by tongs from small boats. The shallow bay is a jackpot oyster habitat: nutrient-dense soil, brackish water (which deters many predators), and warm, calm conditions thanks to surrounding barrier islands. Creamy and less salty than other varieties, these oysters are a restaurant staple in the Gulf states. If you’re lucky enough to land in Apalachicola, buy a bushel—then roast them or slurp them down raw.